MUZAFFARABAD: A member of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) cabinet, Taqdees Gillani, said on Thursday she would table a bill in the legislative assembly to curb early-age forced marriages as part of efforts to ensure the rights of children and women in the state.

Taqdees Gillani, minister without portfolio, made this announcement at a seminar on early-age forced marriages under the aegis of the national commission on the status of women, in collaboration with three United Nations agencies: UNICEF, UNFPA, and UN Women.

“I acknowledge, a lot of work needs to be done regarding the rights of children and women in Azad Kashmir. I myself will table a bill on forced child marriage in the assembly with an aim to put in place a comprehensive policy and way forward to prevent such unethical and un-Islamic acts,” she said.

She was of the view that generally illiterate people from low-income groups would get their children married very early so that they could lighten their burden, unmindful of or deliberately overlooking the problems the practice caused to the victims. “We will prepare the draft of the proposed bill in collaboration and consultation with the national and AJK’s commissions on the status of women,” Ms Gillani said.

Earlier, Ms Nilofar Bakhtiar, chairperson of the national commission on the status of women, said that underage marriage was an injustice to children. “If there is a minimum age limit of 18 years for the national identity card, the same should also be for marriage,” she said. Ms. Bakhtiar said that early marriages created serious health hazards and destroyed the future of children.

She said a law to prevent this practice should be passed by the AJK legislature, and all concerned should play their role in this regard. The seminar was also addressed by the AJK minister for higher education, the leader of the opposition, and the federal secretary for women commission. Earlier, three groups of participants did group work, followed by their presentations on poverty alleviation from a gender perspective, strengthening institutions for gender equality, and mobilising financing for women empowerment.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2024

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